Case study

Mature student Amy achieves her art therapy goal

Amy Broadbent set herself a goal: become a qualified art therapist. And she knew the steps she needed to take to achieve this goal. It wasn’t going to be easy. But she was determined. Now, after completing an access course and an undergraduate degree, and graduating from our MA Art Therapy with distinction, Amy is now an Art Psychotherapist within HM Prison Service.  

Starting her journey

Amy started her journey at the University of Derby – almost 20 years after she left school – with an access course consisting of Psychology, Sociology and History. As a mature student, Amy says: “This was a great start for me to get back into studying as I had not experienced education since I left school aged 16. Being a mature student starting at the age of 34 I found it scary to think about going back to school and was uncertain about my ability to perform at an academic level. So, starting at the access level really helped me grow as an academic and get inspired to learn again.” 

Amy felt she knew that Derby was the right choice for her studies early on. She says: “My lecturer was an inspiration to me and really guided me to learn essay writing skills and apply them to my studies. This gave me a great insight into how the next level of training would be for me at undergraduate level.”

A diverse learning environment

Amy progressed from the access course to an undergraduate course in Therapeutic Arts and felt being a mature student was a positive experience for her. She explains: “I was able to learn from younger generations and I would bring my differing knowledge which led to an enriched cohort and learning environment.”

“The diversity that the University and the course specifically brought was quite empowering, offering diversity through the wide range of accessible resources and differing areas of study. An example of this would be the studio facilities and the abundance of opportunities to play with materials and grow as an artist, practitioner and academic. Another would be the opportunity to channel your own passion for certain practices like art in nature that can be experienced throughout the ‘Big Wood’ event that is offered to students on both the undergraduate level and the MA Art Therapy.”

The ‘Big Wood’ project enables students to think beyond studio spaces by taking part in environmental, site-specific arts workshops in the outskirts of Derby. Through the Big Wood project, Amy found opportunities to explore and deepen her curiosity about nature as an art form. She says: “I became very interested in how using nature to create art could inform my practice and facilitate an avenue for self-development for both myself and others.”

Stepping up at postgraduate level

After completing an undergraduate course in Therapeutic Arts, Amy started her journey of becoming a practising art therapist and studied our MA Art Therapy course. This had been Amy’s goal since starting the access course and she also knew from placements at undergraduate level where she facilitated therapeutic arts workshops at a male prison that this was the environment she wanted to continue with placement opportunities at postgraduate level and eventually seek employment in. 

For anyone interested in studying MA Art Therapy, Amy says: “The course really challenges you to explore your internal world and learn about ourselves through artistic research. Bringing our unconscious to consciousness through making. The demands of the course can be extremely difficult and the support of the academic and technical team were a vital network of support enabling me to navigate through my often-difficult experiences with their encouraging and caring assistance.”

A woman in a patterned black blouse and red lipstick stands in front of a colourful exhibition of a painting and hanging globe shapes in a studio

Finishing her higher education

Amy found exhibiting her work in her last year of postgraduate study a new experience in presenting her raw, internal world for others to view: “The dissemination process of the course was important for me to experience and sit with the difficult emotions surrounding my art research and my process. It feels quite exposing to hang our artwork for others to view yet for me it was important to witness and process those feelings and recognise the fear that can often be experienced by our clients.”

For her final research piece, Amy looked at the use of natural materials to assist navigating grief, a theme she was keen to explore as Amy feels the losses experienced by the prisoner population is quite a large part of their lives. Amy used various resources and facilities at our Britannia Mill building including the studio space and ceramics workshops where she explored some forgotten traditional, natural firing methods with support from the technical services team. 

A passion for her workplace

Amy wanted to work within the prison service as she saw it as a forgotten community made up of: “a group of people that do not always get access to vital mental health interventions.” 

At postgraduate level, Amy took up the opportunity to gain clinical practice experience at a  high dependency unit for men with complex mental health needs and forensic backgrounds. This placement gave Amy experience of one-to-one client work and being part of a multi-disciplinary team. Amy went on to a placement where she worked within a team delivering therapeutic interventions within a male prison and says: “The art therapy was an important space for the men to continue to explore their behaviours and past experiences in a space dedicated to using art as an expressive communicator.”

Working in her dream role

Following 6 years of studying, Amy has gained employment at a male prison where she works full time as an art psychotherapist and says: “the reward of having the opportunity to offer my profession within prisons inspires me to continually develop my practice.”

Reflecting on her journey

Amy says that: “The therapeutic arts are important to me because being able to share a personal narrative through art can be transformational. It highlights to me how much society relies on the spoken word to communicate yet we can share so much through the use of the arts.”

During a moment of self-reflection, Amy feels that art making herself has enabled her to: “gain deep self-awareness and at times experience painful insight into my processes.”

Going through this process herself, Amy feels equipped to support individuals in transitioning through sometimes painful experiences and be able to offer an acute sensitivity and empathic response as a professional therapist. 

Close up of colourful woven piece of work at MA Art Therapy Exhibition 2017

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